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Leno and Obama Blur the Line Between News and Entertainment

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Barack Obama, the President of the United States, appeared last night on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I don't know about you, but to me that seems supremely weird.

Whatever Leno's show may morph into when he takes the 10pm timeslot next fall, right now his show is an entertainment one, and while I find politics entertaining (if a bit disgusting at times), I wouldn't say that having the President on really fits with the ethos of the show. Leno managed a good mix of lighter and more serious questions and conducted a fine interview, but I'm not sure that the interview ought to have been conducted at all.

It's no secret that I'm more of a Letterman guy than a Leno one, but I think that it would be weird if Dave conducted the interview as well. Late night talkers, save Nightline, are not news shows. The monologues of these comedy-based shows routinely go after politicians, past and present, but that still doesn't make the show news-based or the appropriate forum for President Obama to be discussing his agenda and strategies.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not against Obama as person nor as our President. I am one of the millions who voted for Barack Obama, and I feel just as much today as I did then that he is the correct person for the job. However, I don't feel as though his simply being the correct person means that he necessarily doesn't make mistakes, and, if I'm not wrong about him, he has to feel the same way. We're all human, we're all fallible, and I think that this may have been an instant of Obama's being fallible (thank goodness we're only talking a late night television appearance and not the economy).

The problem, I think, is that as good an interview as Leno may have conducted, I'd rather see our President go on news shows. I'd rather see him on Meet the Press on Sunday morning (I assume he has an affinity for NBC as he did Leno and not Letterman) than on late night. News shows have a certain responsibility to the audience that entertainment talk shows don't. News shows are, generally speaking, more unbiased than a late night talker, and are more on a search for truth (or ought to be). Entertainment shows are meant to be… entertaining, and they exist, by and large, to promote people, movies, shows, records, and other various things; that's their goal – promotion.

There is of course some overlap – if Obama appeared on Meet the Press he would be promoting his ideas just as much as he did on Leno, but David Gregory would be asking questions more directed at uncovering hidden bits, unintended consequences, and subtle points of Obama's plans. Gregory would be tasked, to some extent, more as a devil's advocate than Leno was required to be.

The line between news and entertainment is constantly getting blurred, and I think that to some extent such a thing is inevitable. Many people will tell you that there's a softening of "hard news" stories. FOX News doesn't find it necessary to remain objective and non-partisan, and increasingly MSNBC doesn't either. But, both those channels tend to remain true to their goal of presenting the news and opinions on the news (in some sort of "entertaining" fashion).

Pushing an entertainment show more towards news makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I think that's because, at least in this case, I'd rather have the guy running the country answer hard questions and defend and fight for his beliefs in the most challenging forum possible. I'm neither saying he's right nor that's he wrong with his economic stimulus plan, I just would rather he was required to actively defend it rather than just have someone lob easy questions at him.

But, you'll find the video below, judge for yourself.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Barb Lamont

    Remeber Don Imus’ Comment?

    Obama said: “He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America. The notions that as young African-American women — who I hope will be athletes — that that somehow makes them less beautiful or less important. It was a degrading comment. It’s one that I’m not interested in supporting.”

    Therefore, laughter and the lack of reaction from Obama’s remarks suggest Americans have a set a rules for race, class and gender: If you touch them you will pay.

    And another set of rules for individuals that have a mental or physical disability: If you touch them, it’s ok if you apologize. Oh, and by the way, it’s okay to laugh at the jokes that come at the expense of the latter.

    It is just cruel.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Perhaps, Obama, in his spare time, can write a book called “The Audacity to Pick on Cripples”. Another one can be called “The Audacity to Push Jews Around”. Another one can be called “The Audacity to Roll Out the TARP”.

    This Luo fellow is one hell of a president you Americans picked. It’s always good to have an immigrant for Chief Executive….

  • zingzing

    ruvy, you’re an immigrant, obama is clearly not.

    and that cripples line was cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeap.